Valley Hispanics find parish to call home
Community moves from Neenah to St. Therese Parish in Appleton
National Migration Week is Jan. 6-12
By Joanne Flemming
APPLETON -- The Fox Valley's Hispanic community has a parish of its own.
The community moved from St. Gabriel Parish in Neenah, where it was known as St. Gabriel's Hispanic Community, to St. Therese Parish in Appleton at the end of 2001, said Sr. Jane Riha, Hispanic ministry coordinator.
The Community celebrated its first Spanish-language Mass in its new home on Jan. 6.
"We have a parish we can call our parish. We are registered as members and will participate as members," Sr. Riha said.
Fr. Dan Gilsdorf, St. Therese's pastor, said the parish invited the Hispanic community to become members because it has "plenty of room. We were looking for more life in the parish."
Sr. Riha said the move is good for the community because it is more centrally located for most of the members, more than 50% of whom come from Appleton; the rest come from Neenah, Menasha, Kimberly, Kaukauna, Little Chute and surrounding communities. A few even come from Oshkosh, she added.
For the next few months, the parish and the Hispanic ministry will be in transition, she said, as the two different cultures get to know each other.
"The intention is that we be one community," Sr. Riha said.
Some of the Hispanic community's members also need to learn what life is like in a U.S. parish since it is different from parish life in many parts of Mexico.
During the transition, the parish will be registering Hispanic families. Sr. Riha estimated there are 325 families registered, representing around 1,300 people.
The community will continue to celebrate a Spanish Mass at 12:30 p.m. Sundays and is considering adding a Saturday evening Spanish Mass.
There will be a bilingual prayer service on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 13, and a bilingual Mass on Holy Saturday.
Sr. Riha, who has joined the St. Therese staff, said Hispanic ministry offers religious education and preparation for all sacraments. It wants to expand religious education and its youth ministry programs.
The Hispanic ministry began in the Fox Valley as a small group that had a Spanish Mass once a month at such places as Monte Alverno Retreat Center in Appleton. In March, 1996, it moved to St. Gabriel in Neenah.
Sr. Riha said the diocese became involved with the ministry in 1997. Sr. Laura Zelten was named part-time coordinator. Sr. Riha became full-time in 1999.
She commended St. Gabriel's for being "very gracious" and "hospitable to us."